Calgary Central Library

Merit Award 2019

The stunning new Calgary Central Library in rapidly developing Calgary, Alberta, is an inspiring vision of what a public space can be. The landmark transforms the streetscape, creating connections in a transitional area of the city by joining Calgary’s downtown with its East Village. Designed by Snøhetta and DIALOG, the building welcomes, reflects and engages with its community, proving that that in a digital age, public libraries are more important than ever before.

Architecture, materials, environmental graphics and programming combine to inspire a sense of discovery, inclusion and history in Calgary Central Library. This is not just a place where you go to find a book: this is where the community gathers, teens can do gaming, businesses can book rooms and classrooms can be used for community teachings. In short, it has become the hub for its community.

Libraries, where users need to locate information as well as destination, present a unique opportunity for wayfinding. In this particular case, the curvilinear form and high ceilings of the building presented challenges in integrating the wayfinding program, as there was virtually no opportunity for sign placement on walls and ceilings. 

The wayfinding design team also needed to consider the curved architecture when communicating directional information, as they couldn’t use the simpler, perpendicular orientations that wayfinding typically follows. To integrate the signage, the wayfinding team strategically placed signs on the columns that were located at regular intervals. These “anchor” locations educate the users to understand the (untraditional) decision point nodes, which help them to locate the different book genres and all of the library amenities very quickly.

The signage is made of wood and reflects the building’s geometric forms, sending a playful message of welcome through shape, color and graphics. The team also experimented with various wood finishes and fabrication strategies to ensure that the signage would endure various trials.

Color-coded graphics on stack ends help users identify each genre, while a custom signage system built right into the shelving, allows flexibility as the collection shifts. In the “Calgary’s Story” area, historical images are used to identify the collection and reinforce sense of identity and place for this new Calgary landmark.

The program strikes a careful balance, creating the sense of a unified journey while differentiating between the variety of spaces and resources found in the library. The form and placement of the wayfinding signage encourages visitors to explore the library’s intuitive vertical orientation and many offerings.

With a performance hall, café, a children’s early learning center, recording studios, digital learning labs, a space just for teens, Indigenous art installations, reading rooms and nooks, free meeting areas, services for new comers and extensive programing, the library is a true community resource—something that has been reflected in its overwhelming success. During the new Central Library’s opening weekend from November 1-4, there were 52,223 visitors, 20,843 checked-out items and 3,397 new members. And, recently, The New York Times named Calgary Central Library in their “52 Places To Go In 2019” list.

Jury Comments: 

"Ahhh. Tasteful references to architectural form paired with clear messaging and typography."

"Sensitively executed with the intended audience, purpose and architecture in mind. The typography and materials are beautifully composed and applied."

Design Firms: 

Snohetta
Entro
DIALOG

Client: 

Calgary Municipal Land Corporation

Project Area: 

240,000 sq ft

Open Date: 

November 2018

Photo Credits: 

Jason Dziver, Michael Grimm Photography

Design Team: 

Snøhetta: Martin Gran (partner/strategic advisor); Sofie Apelseth Platou, Kim Andre Ottesen (designers) 

Entro: Wayne McCutcheon (principal in charge), Cynthia Damar-Schnobb (partner/project director), Chris Herringer (senior associate/construction administrator), Vanessa Tarasio (designer) and Raymond Cheung (technical designer)

Consultants: 

Stuart Olson

Fabricators: 

KING Products and Solutions, Inc., WSI Sign Systems Ltd. & KING Architectural Products, West Canadian Digital Imaging inc.

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